Sunday, January 22, 2017

Sanctity of Lives

Sometimes it is good to take a step back from a portrait being painted to take it in as a whole. Our artist, Luke, has been painting a portrait of Jesus who cares about people, specifically, people the world overlooks. God sees and loves and saves those who believe and gives them meaning as he uses them for his glory. There are so many examples. Just recently in Luke 12:

6Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? And not one of them is forgotten before God. 7Why, even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not; you are of more value than many sparrows.

While preparing for this message I was studying at home and watching the birds at the feeders on our deck. Chickadees, doves, wrens, cardinals, finches, and sparrows are regulars. Sparrows are many bird-watchers' least favorite. They’re the brownish-grey birds at McDonalds. Fact is, biologists tell us that our "house sparrows" as they are known here, are an introduced species that originated in the middle east, are now all over the world, and are perhaps the most common wild bird on earth. Coincidental? Everyone in the world knows the sparrow as a ubiquitous, hardly noticeable, insignificant little bird. But they're not to God. He knows them all by name and provides for and prospers them. Jesus uses the lowly sparrow to illustrate how important we are to God—so much so that every single hair on our heads has an individual number. Wow.

Next week we will study vv. 22-34. Here’s a little preview, and I want to pull out one aspect that illustrates what we’ve seen from Jesus as we’ve been studying Luke 12.

24Consider the ravens: they neither sow nor reap, they have neither storehouse nor barn, and yet God feeds them. Of how much more value are you than the birds! ...27Consider the lilies, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. 28But if God so clothes the grass, which is alive in the field today, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, how much more will he clothe you… 32“Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom.

We’ll unpack the whole passage more next week (there’s so much good stuff!) but I want to focus on how this reveals God’s heart for people. God loves all human lives. They are special, holy to him. Why? Because he created human beings in his own image. All other life forms and everything that makes life possible he made for us. To support human life. Not just for sustenance and survival, but for prosperity, productivity, awe, and purpose.

How important are you to him? He made you unique and wonderful, he created all things for you, he has created a plan to show you his love/forgiveness/grace by dying in your place, and he wants to give you the kingdom! And not just you.

Today is what Christians call “Sanctity of Human Life” Sunday. Yes, that's when we acknowledge that God cares for human beings, even at their most vulnerable place—beginning in the mother’s womb.

Psalm 139:13-16

13For you formed my inward parts;
   you knitted me together in my mother's womb.

14I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
   Wonderful are your works;
      my soul knows it very well.

15My frame was not hidden from you,
  when I was being made in secret,
      intricately woven in the depths of the earth.

16Your eyes saw my unformed substance;
   in your book were written, every one of them,
      the days that were formed for me,
      when as yet there was none of them.

God sees every human life—beginning with it’s very inception—as precious.

Here's my question:
If Christians don’t stand for life in the womb, who will?

One of the many reminders that evil is alive and well in the world is the continuing diminishment of the most innocent and vulnerable lives—unborn children. This is our age’s infanticide—an evil common to most ages (be it ancient civilizations like the Aztec, Maya, Inca, as well as some Euro-asian tribes, and seen in the Bible in ancient Egypt when Moses was born and even Israel when Herod heard of one "born King of the Jews" killed the children around Bethlehem). Abortion is ours. There have been about 60 million abortions since Roe vs. Wade. Half of them little girls, and 18 million of them black babies (that's 1/3). That's stunning.

Good news is we’re making a difference. A report released this week showed that the abortion rate has fallen 50% from it's height, to a historic low since Roe in the U.S. For the first time since 1973, under 1 million babies were aborted in a year.

One million...babies killed. Wow. We still have so far to go.

The issue of abortion is certainly not where it ends. Too many times when we hear “Sanctity of human life” we think only of the unborn. But they are not the only lives being diminished and devalued in our culture. Yes, you no doubt know that racism & sexism still exists. There seems to be a lot of conversation about these things. Of course, racism is evil. God sees no color. Of course sexism is evil. Gen. 1:27 NIV So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. We, regardless of race or sex are image-bearers of God.

Unfortunately not all the conversation regarding these hot topics is healthy. In fact, when you throw in political aspirations and people who have other self-serving agendas, we can find ourselves taking steps backward. It is important that Christians stand for truth and demonstrate God’s love to all. As bad as these things are—and they have many derivatives—I want, today, to talk (frankly and briefly) about some other denigrated people, who don’t get as much press.

•There are orphans and kids needing foster care who need parents and families to do as God has done when he pursued & adopted us as his children. Most of us never consider what it must be like to not have someone to call mom or dad. We Christians can make a difference.

Because their lives matter to God.

Homelessness is an ongoing problem in our nation. You can’t drive to Turkey Creek or downtown without seeing homeless people. What isn’t as obvious is the brokenness and mental illness and addiction and abuse from which these people suffer. We support KARM. You can give… but you can also volunteer, serve meals, and help in many other ways.

Because their lives matter to God.

Elderly and disabled/handicapped/infirm— Our culture seems to discard the elderly. We who are healthy forget those who are disabled or sick. This category includes people all around us, and so many times they are overlooked. Who in your life needs help, encouragement, or just a friend? 

Because their lives matter to God.

Immigrants and refugees—Knoxville is a city that has been chosen by our government to receive refugees from war-torn parts of the world, and because of our universities and Oak Ridge, we attract people who legally are here from other parts of the world. We can welcome these people. We support KIN and Bridge, but more importantly, we want YOU to seek friendship with internationals. Most of the time they are eager for friendship. We have ESL and we need volunteers.

Because their lives matter to God.

Addicted people. There are people in this room who have overcome addictions by God’s help. I know many who are in process. The best hope people have is Christ. One thing we want to do is create a mentoring ministry to help people overcome. Addiction is a HUGE problem in the USA. If the church isn’t the answer, what is? I am praying that God will raise up some who will lead us in meeting this need.

Because their lives matter to God.

Victims of sex slavery- Y’all may know that I’m on the board of Street Hope. There is a real problem of especially girls pushed by pimps or sometimes family to have sex with men for drugs or money. The exploding porn industry is much behind it. I just read a 25 page report by Vanderbilt and government agencies that horrified me. There is so much pain, and we have so far to go. The church must respond to this evil, as we did in abolition.

Because their lives matter to God.

Unborn babies and women in crisis pregnancy- now back full circle to abortion. Let’s not forget our church's first partnership. Way back in 1996 at the height of the abortion crisis, we decided to be a part of the solution in a positive way and were a founding church that supported Hope Resource Center. Many of you are a part, and we need many more. Here in Knoxville, over half of the abortion clinics have shut down since HRC began. Our prayer is that more unexpectant moms will have their babies, and that God will continue to redeem these women who find themselves in bad circumstances. This happens often at HRC. You can be a part.

Because their lives matter to God.

All these lives are precious to God.

So what can you do?

1. Repent from diminishing people.
That means stop seeing them as less-than-precious. Search your heart regarding your own attitude toward others. Do you consider some as less-worthy to be image-bearers? Turn from sin to surrender. See things God’s way, embrace it, and adopt it as your own. Get off the intellectual bench and recognize all lives are precious to God and change your attitude wherever need be. Go through the categories: Do I have racist feelings? Do I have sexist feelings? Do I feel ill-will toward homeless, immigrants, addicts? Or how about this: Do I consider a gay man’s life any less important to God? Do I harbor hatred toward a transgendered person?

Here's the minefield we're in: many voices (even some "Christian" ones) are urging us to compromise. On the one hand we are urged to soften the Bible's definition of sin. We must not. On the other hand (and just as harmfully) we are urged to shrink from the Bible's call to love. We must not. On either side of Christ's hard way there are ditches of sinful compromise. What it means to be Christian is to be like Christ. Regardless of what culture says, be it the media or Hollywood or political pundits or someone at work or your parents or neighbors or anyone else. We obey Christ. That means truth AND love.

Check this out: In Ephesians chapter 4, Paul tells us that God gave leaders to equip you for ministry and to build up the church...
14so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. 15Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, Speaking the truth in love. 

We do not compromise truth. Sin is sin. BUT WE ALSO DO NOT FAIL TO LOVE. If you claim to be a Christian, and there are people who you can’t love, you need to repent. 

John Barber this week reminded me of Cory Ten Boom, a Dutch Christian who wrote The Hiding Place, who was sent along with her sister Betsie to a Nazi concentration camp for hiding Jews. After being cruelly treated by their captors, Betsie (who eventually died in the camp) made it a habit to pray for these inhuman guards who abused them and the other prisoners. Cory objected, but her sister reminded her that Christ said to pray for our enemies, and that if we look at them through Christ's eyes, we can love them.

That's what it means to be Christian.

2. Make a change in your mind to care. Do you feel indifference? I think that’s probably the more important question we should ask ourselves. Even if some of us do not have racist/sexist/condescending feelings for others. We’re so often indifferent. We’re so preoccupied with our own lives that we have no energy or concern for others. It’s time to look at people as Jesus did: with compassion. He looked at a sister who lost her brother and wept. He looked at a crowd stuck in sin and without leadership and wept. He had compassion on those who were lepers, Samaritans, gentiles, poor, blind, lame, hungry. But as Jesus demonstrated, our job doesn't end with just feeling compassion.

3. Pray. When you feel the darkness and hopelessness and anger and hurt (and you will if you change your mind from sin or indifference to surrender), you should pray. Make this an automatic response to the high blood pressure that compassionate people feel. It’s not a stress-management methodology. It’s not the least you can do. It’s the MOST you can do. Phil. 4:6-7 Do not be anxious about anything… Pray for those HARD to love. Pray that God will HELP you love. Ask God HOW you should show love.

4. Get in the game. Do something. Get uncomfortable. Talk with someone who’s not like you. Stop being indifferent and start loving people and showing it by your actions. Yes, you’re going to be misunderstood, so was Jesus. Yes, you’ll probably be hurt by some you try to love, so was Jesus.

If you remember earlier in Luke, a man asked Jesus what was the greatest commandment. He said, love God and love your neighbor. Remember what followed? The man asked, “Well, just who is my neighbor?” And Jesus told the parable of the good Samaritan. In it, those religious Jews who knew better walked by the beaten man on the other side of the road, indifferent. They were content to let him die. But thankfully for the man, a Samaritan—a hated, half-breed, unclean heretic—saw the man, had compassion, and took a risk at great personal cost to care for him unconditionally. 

Jesus said, "You go, do likewise" (Luke 10:37).

You who know better—you Christians—don’t walk by on the other side of the road. The greatest witness of Christ and the reality of the Gospel is Christians who love with their actions.

Give toward impacting these problems. Your missions giving through Providence helps these ministries. But don’t stop there. Volunteer in these ministries.

And look for ways to be Christ to those image-bearers around you who are diminished by others.

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